Hiring non-EA Talent: Pros & Cons

TLDR: Asking for hires to be acquainted with EA ideas or to demonstrate how EA they are limits the talent pool where it is already scarce. Looking outside of EA has challenges but can be a net positive in some circumstances.


Throughout my involvement in the EA world, I see that one of the biggest challenges facing effective altruism is attracting the right people with the right skills to execute its many promising projects. I’ve witnessed firsthand in my work in both China and Serbia how a lack of skilled personnel can hinder an organization’s progress.

Take EA Serbia as an example. As the EA movement is relatively new in Serbia, it’s been hard to attract members and move them inward through the concentric circles. We decided to hire two part-time employees (one focused on marketing & social media, the second focused on outreach and developing external relations) who were completely outside of EA but who had relevant professional experience with the charity world. We asked them to take the EA Serbia Introductory Course (our own version of the Introductory EA Program) during their first month at work as part of their onboarding. These people brought their expertise in their professional fields, which made a huge difference in our outreach efforts, and which also established a solid foundation for future EA efforts in Serbia.

I am not the first one to write about this. There have been a variety of posts on the EA forum regarding outreach to mid-career professionals with relevant skills, attempts at EA-specialized hiring agencies, and the like. Also, see here for AI Policy talent gaps. People with both relevant skills and a passion for making a difference can be crucial assets. Moreover, by getting involved in EA, they serve as a vector to spread EA ideas to professional networks that otherwise would remain unconnected to EA, allowing us to reach new groups of people (we’ve seen this with one of our hires now spreading EA Ideas in their professional circles).

While there are certainly some roles in which high levels of EA context and knowledge is necessary, I’d encourage us all to question the impulse to say “every hire must be at least 9 out of 10 on the metric of EAness.” For some roles, maybe 6 out of 10 is enough. For some roles, maybe 3 out of 10 is enough. The person designing the programming for EAG probably needs to have a strong understanding of the EA community in order to do their work well, and the translator definitely needs to understand the concepts in order to translate them well. But the person who designs your payroll system or makes reservations for your team offsite probably doesn’t. Do you need your office manager to be an EA, or would it work out fine to simply hire a skilled office manager who gets familiar with EA during their first few months on the job? That will, of course, depend on your organization’s specific circumstances, but you should at least consider that for many roles, a competent professional with several years of experience who is neutral about EA will be able to perform very well on the job.

Key Takeaways


Expertise is important, and it gets things done:

  • Certain roles demand specific expertise or experience. Sometimes, you really do want an experienced project manager with a PMP certification rather than an organized person who can write well, who ran the EA club at their school, and who has never had a job before. Some skills are easier or harder for a person with no experience to learn and pick up. Consider accounting, marketing, web design, or recruitment; some of these have positive and some of these have negative learning curves. Between candidates Alice and Bob, if Alice has expertise and Bob does not, for many roles, that should probably outweigh the consideration of Bob being “more EA” than Alice. The tax bureau does not care about your mission alignment or if your confidence intervals are properly calibrated; it needs a CPA designation (or whatever your jurisdiction requires) as a proxy for a certain level of professional knowledge and competence. Additionally, EA talent is concentrated in some important ways: we have more people with expertise in software and economics than in pedagogy or international relations, more in research than in human resources (multiple EA orgs have struggled with citizenship and immigration issues, with legal compliance, and with turnover). In some functions, EA as a whole would benefit from extending the recruiting net beyond the EA circle. There has long been talk about how getting skilled managers is challenging for EA orgs, and part of the reason for this is that such a small percentage of the EA community has professional experience as managers.

“Culture fit” assimilation:

  • When hiring people, fit for the role, for the organization, and for the ‘industry’ are all important. Although integrating individuals from outside the EA community presents challenges, it’s possible to assess compatibility through well-designed selection processes (as Charity Entrepreneurship does) and thoughtful analysis. The ideal might be to identify proto EAs (people who would be amenable to the ideas of EA, but simply haven’t encountered EA or need a bit of a nudge to get more involved) in combination with right philosophical beliefs.

Industry specific wisdom:

  • Hiring individuals who bring diverse ideas and methodologies from other industries can significantly enhance innovation within EA organizations. Drawing on experiences from sectors as varied as robotics, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, etc. can provide fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to existing challenges. It can also reduce redundancy and failure percentage by adding diversity of thought and experience. For example, even if I am hired for my recruitment experience I also bring diversity of thought by having lived and worked in China, in large and small corporations and with multinational start-ups. Each of those can be useful for my place of work, separately from my main expertise. Hiring an event planner with a decade of experience will involve getting access to that person’s professional network, getting access to suppliers they have worked with before, and getting access to event-specific knowledge that would be relatively inaccessible without that experience (such as industry regulations or professional associates with a bad reputation).


Risk to team cohesion:

  • Letting in people who are actually not fully aligned with the EA values might have a negative influence on the rest of the team. Good onboarding and integration are crucial here in order to not disturb the team’s dynamic. It may also be unwise to make your first hires non-EA if you plan to hire quickly after that. Every startup founder will tell you that your first several hires are crucial. If a large percentage of your team isn’t on board with EA ideas, you may end up diffusing or changing the culture. Hiring someone who agrees with EA ideas but who simply has them as a smaller part of their life is unlikely to actively hurt the culture, whereas hiring someone who is apathetic or even against EA ideas might likely end up as a net negative, even if they have high levels of relevant professional skills.

Slow development:

  • Any new hire is a bet: with limited information about their skills, you try to predict how well they will perform in the role. If you hire someone unfamiliar with EA, it might take more time to educate them on the EA ideas, communication practices, and cultural norms of your team. A competent professional who hasn’t heard of Fermi estimates or scout mindset or double cruxing can quickly grasp the concept, but you will still need to take extra time to introduce the idea the first time they encounter it. Multiply that by a dozen different concepts, and this can potentially slow down the work. This necessitates a balanced approach to onboarding, training, and integration to ensure that productivity is maintained while having the core values intact. Merely sharing a long list of acronyms and terminology with the new hire won’t work well.

EA jobs provide scarce non-monetary goods:

  • If you can hire someone from within the EA community, you are offering them a chance to keep them active and engaged in EA, and denying them that just because you want to explore non-EA talent should be done carefully. I understand and appreciate the desire to help our own, and there is a place for that consideration. However, it should not come at the expense of expertise, and I think that the tradeoff between those I think falls on the expertise side.


Overall, the dilemma here is balancing skills and values alignment within Effective Altruism. The deficit of experienced professionals leads to numerous EA professionals assuming multiple roles due to a shortage of specialist talent, which may impede an organization’s progress. Considering the uncertainty of whether external recruits will adapt to EA principles, a strategic alternative might be to offer introductory fellowships (AI safety fellowship or other fields’ focused programs) to senior professionals. This approach would allow for identifying and intensively supporting those most receptive to a career shift, thereby optimizing impact.

Moreover, hiring someone new to EA in order to get specific expertise is beneficial, but the hiring and selection process should be approached differently than is sometimes done. With the right selection criteria questions, posting job openings more broadly outside of the EA community, consideration of previous professional background, and an eye for the value fit, these hires can bring a lot of expected value to the org and the community.

These are some rough thoughts from my experience but I’m eager to hear from others in the EA community who have hired externally. What positives and negatives have you encountered?”

Special thanks to @gergo @Joseph Alcantara @Dušan D. Nešić (Dushan) @Nina Friedrich for comments on an earlier draft.